Photography: Ben Brook

Fenne Lily
28/11 – Leaf

With a record that ruminates on loneliness and a passion to bring people together through live music, a post-lockdown tour is the perfect tonic. FENNE LILY speaks to David Roskin ahead of her show at Leaf.

FENNE LILY is a muse on loneliness. She’s a siren bringing us together in the bleakness of the last two years- completely unintentionally. Her critically reviewed sophomore album BREACH dropped in the midst of lockdown two, with its focus on isolation feeling incredibly timely. Even more impressive considering it was finished before the word ‘lockdown’ became embedded in our vocabulary.

BREACH‘s timely release isn’t why it’s special, but for being a record built on a concept most fear and relish at points in our lives – being completely alone. It encapsulates the journey of your twenties that feels like a hot mess, even more so when you’re blossoming into adulthood in the frozen pandemic world.

Now, a year later, the album will be taken out on the road for the first time. For someone like Fenne Lily, who’s written a “fun and dynamic live” album, made to be played in a crowded room, it’s no surprise lockdown coming two weeks after the final mixing of the record, was a “kick in the teeth” to her, even when chatting over Zoom on a particularly cold Bonfire Night, you feel the weight of that era in her voice.

“It's just kind of a life affirming situation to watch someone play songs you've been listening to in your house, with people you've never met”

Like all artists releasing music over the last few years, measuring a response with out being able to play live has been hard. “I’ll stand at [the merch stand] and get people’s feedback face to face and I love that. And to be honest, I kind of crawled back into myself.” Lily came to the conclusion that social media wasn’t doing her much good.

“I felt almost embarrassed to be doing anything that wasn’t saving a life or making the world better. I felt a little bit selfish and not worthy of attention, because there was the BLM protests, and there’s a climate crisis. It was a weird time to be like, ‘listen to me’! I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to what people were thinking about the record purely because I didn’t really want to think about it.” Lily tells me of the mental knots she was tying herself up in. “Also, purely selfish perspective, spending close to two years then kind of throwing it out in a day and hoping that by the time the world opens up, it’ll still be relevant!’

Her worries were unfounded, with a regular slot on Islington Radio giving listeners a chance to reach out and spread their joy in BREACH. As well as an Instagram series, The Bath Time Show, where she was able to chat with friends and musicians and be able to express herself beyond the album and press releases. She walks me through it; ‘I was getting loads of questions about the same stuff, which is to be expected, but I wanted to ask more. Basically, I just wanted to know what [Dead Oceans labelmate] Phoebe Bridgers’ first kiss was like, or how this person feels about Christmas or whatever. It was just a chance to hang out with people virtually and be an entertaining hour in a week that may have nothing in [it].’

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Through all of this, a trend emerges – young fans expressing a desire to see her in action, having found solace in her records, her Instagram Lives and radio shows in lockdown. One problem though, none of them wanted to be going to the gig on their own. That’s why she’s setting up the ‘Lonely Fans’ initiative.

‘I’m really comfortable going to shows alone. But when I was younger, I wasn’t. So I thought if there’s a way to group together the people that otherwise would be going alone and feeling uncomfortable, or would just completely opt out of going to the show. If we can just give them the option to stand with people that are in a similar position, then that will maybe foster a sense of togetherness coming out of a time of being very alone.’ It’s clear how much this means to her.

The magic of her artistry is in this togetherness that really should be unavailable in a record dealing with loneliness, and trying to work out the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Lily’s lack of fear in digging into her own psyche benefits us all, she presents us with what we’ve been thinking and possibly too afraid to let ourselves feel.

BREACH is an exercise in catharsis, with Lily’s lyricism standing out at every turn, the run on quitting smoking but getting right back on it in Laundry And Lag, and the strangely prophetic nature of Berlin (‘It’s not hard to be alone anymore’) and Someone Else’s Trees (‘I’m not afraid to die, more so to be alive’). It’s going be therapeutic for all involved. Talking on her own recent jaunts to gigs in Bristol, Lily says “I’m so nervous at the beginning. By the end of the show, I really felt like for 45 minutes that things were possible again, and I was feeling positive. And I love to think because it’s been two years of this, hopefully people have been absorbing [my] record in their own time.”

She thinks for a minute and continues “I think it’s just kind of a life affirming situation to watch someone play songs you’ve been listening to in your house, with people you’ve never met. I think we all just need to be thrown back into the deep end and be given the chance to remember how brilliant live music was, even though the government aren’t taking it seriously or allowing us travel without passports for every country. Even though all the cards are stacked against live music. It’s one of the only things that I had and probably will ever have, that always makes me feel comfortable and excited and inspired.”

Fenne Lily won’t just be giving BREACH its outing, she’s getting ready for record three. Intending to play a new song each night, Lily hopes to gauge the audience’s reaction. “That’s something I need to think about.” she notes. “The world has not stopped, time has passed. And I need to get on with doing the next part of making another record. I don’t want to ignore that this record happened. I’m so excited to play these songs live because they were intended to be played live.”

Lily muses on what we’ve just discussed over the last 40 minutes. ‘The record was written about being alone. But my aim for it was always to, I don’t know, make people feel the opposite. So hopefully that will, that will happen.’


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